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February 23, 2012

AGAINST CLASS BASKETBALL: What kind of fish are you?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Where people stand on the class basketball debate really comes down to whether they’re a big fish in a small pond kind of person or a small fish in a big pond kind of person.

When I was growing up in Bloomington in the 1990s, Bloomington South was a football powerhouse. The Panthers won two state championships and came up just short of a third state title against Penn in 1997. The 1997 and 1998 teams had Rex Grossman throwing the ball for them, who, for those who don’t know, was the quarterback for the Chicago Bears in their Super Bowl loss to the Indianapolis Colts a few years ago. South had a regular-season winning streak that began when I was in elementary school and didn’t end until the last game of my freshman year.

I say this not to reminisce about how awesome my high school used to be at football, but it became clear to me and my friends, that if we wanted to play football at South, unless we were really good or found a spot on special teams, we weren’t going to play varsity until we were seniors.

I remember one Thursday practice as underclassmen, my friends and I talked about how we could probably start if we went to a school nearby that wasn’t as good at football. We wouldn’t have suddenly gotten better at football, we just would have been in a smaller pond.

The same thing happens when high school teams and championships are separated by class. Small schools that couldn’t win a state championship in a single-class system don’t suddenly get better when they go to a multiple-class system, the pond just gets smaller.

The big fish in a small pond kind of people obviously think class basketball is more fair, and I can’t argue that larger schools have an advantage when it comes to athletics. But I can argue that last season’s Class A “state champion” Indianapolis Metropolitan was not the best basketball team in the state. If the players and coaches and fans of that school do think they were the best high school basketball team in the state last season, then they should be the most ardent supporters of a single-class system.

There are plenty of other reasons to go back to single-class basketball as well, such as attendance. In a News and Tribune column from Feb. 21, 2007, assistant editor Chris Morris wrote, “All you have to do is look at the gate receipts. The IHSAA has been losing money since 1997,” which was the last year for the single-class system.

I don’t have gate receipts to look at, but I do have a News and Tribune article from Nov. 23, 2008 headlined “New era of class sports?” which reported that Bill Pierce, the Floyd Central athletic director at the time, thought ticket sales for boys’ basketball sectionals would be a profitable venture when the four-class system started. Instead it was a disappointment.

“Going in, we were kind of licking our chops and we thought we’d do well,” Pierce was quoted as saying in the article. “But it has not been good financially at all.”

One of the reasons for the decline in ticket sales at the sectional level is that schools must now travel to a neutral site. For example, last season New Albany, which won its sectional, had to travel to Seymour three times. As Morris explained in a March 10, 2011 News and Tribune column, New Albany players, coaches and fans had to travel an hour each way on a week night to try and catch a game at 6 p.m.

He went on to write, “Sectionals were designed to bring neighboring communities together, which adds to rivalries. Why should New Albany and Jeffersonville travel an hour to play one another in a tournament opener? They shouldn’t.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

No matter how many reasons anyone gives for or against the four-class system, it likely won’t change things. We seem to be stuck with this system for the foreseeable future.

Despite this, Hoosiers will continue to debate the class basketball issue and where people stand will continue to come down to whether they prefer a big or small pond.

If you’d rather stay in a small pond and think you’re the biggest fish, then I guess there’s no changing your mind. But I’d rather jump in the big pond and know for sure.

Contact Michael Reschke at michael.reschke@newsandtribune.com.

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